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No lurch to the left

The Tories would be unwise to believe their own spin about Jon Cruddas's appointment to head Labour'

New Statesman

It was hardly a shuffle, more like a shimmy. Ed Miliband has made some changes to his top team in response to the departure of Peter Hain from the office of shadow Secretary of State for Wales. His replacement is Owen Smith, a generally well-rated MP from the 2010 intake who seems to have made a wide range of friends and few enemies in his short time in parliament.

But the move that has generated the most attention is the handing of responsibility for the party’s policy review to Jon Cruddas. The Dagenham MP has a high profile in the party and has been pestered by various people to take a front line ever since his unsuccessful but much admired (in Labour circles; unnoticed anywhere else) campaign for the deputy leadership in 2007.

The appointment has been vacuously branded by Conservatives a “lurch to the left”. This is presumably a half-hearted attempt to re-animate the spectre of “Red Ed” as a kind of default jibe in the absence of more imaginative ways to insult the Labour leader. Anyone who knows Cruddas, has followed his career or listened to his arguments will know he is plainly not a reactionary big state union-hugging lefty from central casting. He was an advisor to Tony Blair and a supporter of David Miliband’s leadership bid in 2010. He was a critic of big state models of welfare spending as ineffective in dealing with stubborn social problems back in the days when budget constraints were not even part of the discussion.

He has dedicated considerable thought to an acute dilemma in modern British politics: how to address the insecurity, disorientation and disempowerment that many feel in response to globalised economic forces without indulging in illiberal strains of protectionism and atavistic nationalism. One criticism sometimes heard of Cruddas is that he is long on elegant analysis of a problem, short on solution.

By contrast, that allegation is never made against Lord Andrew Adonis, Gordon Brown’s transport secretary and architect of the Academy Schools programme under Tony Blair. He has been recruited to feed thoughts on industrial strategy into the policy review. That is being interpreted in some quarters as a symbolic hire to indicate that Blairish ideas are tolerated in Miliband’s Labour party. There was certainly appetite for such a gesture since Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary who has been kicked off the policy review, is considered a fanatical Blairite by the kind of people who still care about such labels. (That is, most of the media and a large but diminishing section of the parliamentary Labour party.)

If Adonis is going to be empowered to take serious decisions about the direction of Labour policy on reforming the economy, infrastructure and strategic investment, he and Cruddas will make a formidable pairing. Indeed, it is hard to believe that the Tories seriously believe their own spin about a sudden surge of Trotskyism at the Labour top table. Surely they are not so crude in their analysis or so ignorant of Labour thinking. Miliband must be hoping they are and that his enemies, not for the first time, are busy underestimating him.

Update: In Prime Minister's Questions today David Cameron used the appointment of Jon Cruddas as a device to attack Ed Miliband for apparent cosiness with trade unions and for revealing his supposedly sinister leftist impulses. It was a desperate lunge suggesting that the Tories do indeed know nothing about Cruddas other than what they must have hastily found on Wikipedia this morning. If they want a more nuanced view they should start with Gaby Hinsliff's profile for the Guardian here and, of course, some of the pieces he has written for the Statesman here.